This article will be my attempt to address a question I see asked a lot. “How is training different for the master lifter?”
Because of the fitness boom in the late 70s to early 80s, America, actually the world, is now enjoying a large number of middle aged exercise enthusiasts. I think this is a good thing and I will attempt to briefly address some of their concerns.
I have been training since 1977 (the date of this writing is March 17, 2002). So I have trained through my 20s, 30s, and am now entering my later 40s. This gives me a unique view of the changes the athlete goes through as he/she ages. By the way I have trained for both powerlifting and endurance sports.
In a nutshell the biggest differences I have noticed are slower recovery, slower healing from injuries, and getting injured easier.
Slower recovery means I need to either spread my workouts farther apart or cut back on the intensity I use to train. I find cutting back on the intensity seems to work the best. I am currently on a wave-training program. The intensity I use varies not only on my powerlifts, but on all of my assistance work as well. I should add, the routine I am using now, will work for the younger athlete as well as the older athlete. It would be to the younger athlete’s advantage to start training this way now to avoid injuries that will haunt him/her when they reach my age.
Slower healing from injuries, and getting injured easier, should be discussed hand in hand. As older athletes we need to be more concerned with keeping the risks low as we train. Because getting hurt no longer means being out of commission for a week. It now means it could be months before we are back in the gym. And we atrophy somewhat faster.
My strategy now is the following; first I weigh the benefit to risk ratio on every exercise I do. All weight training is going to carry some risk with it. But why take more risk than absolutely necessary to accomplish our objectives or goals?
I no longer do overhead presses. I feel I can build all the size and or strength I need in my delts with the benchpresses I do, coupled with front and side raises. I feel overhead pressing puts me at risk of shoulder impingements. Possibly the overhead presses could be a faster way to build size or strength, but to me they are not worth the risk, when my goals can be achieved by a safer method. For this reason I also never do behind the neck pulldowns for my lats. And if you do overhead presses I HIGHLY recommend they not be behind the necks. What little benefit you might get is very minute when you compare it to how much your risk of injury goes up.
Applying the principle I laid out in the previous paragraph here are some exercises I avoid like the plague. Straight legged deadlifts. I think these are a bad idea for another reason also. I practice, practice, and practice good form in the deadlift. I try to practice it till it becomes second nature so that I will pull correctly when lifting in a meet. In my mind’s eye it does not make sense to do all that practice then turn around and deliberately deadlift wrong.
Any type of good mornings. I feel these and SLDLs are both high risk to our aging lower backs. The body is a machine. It wears out. Most back injuries are accumulative. The lower back takes hit after hit like marbles in a jar. Then one day you bend down to pick up a pencil and sneeze and BOOM! There it goes. Just because you have gotten away with something for years does not mean you can continue to do so and everything will be fine.
I avoid upright rows as these really put stress on the shoulders. Plus when benchpressing I keep my elbows “tucked”, flaring them as we were taught by the magazines in the early 80s is very hard on the shoulders.
Finally, I own equipment, and I use it! I never benchpress 90% of my max or more without my shirt. I never squat 225 or more without my knee wraps. I use my suit when squatting double bodyweight or more. And I ALWAYS train with my belt on.
For those reading this article, thinking, “bodybuilders never use equipment” please read Dave Drapers article on this subject.
There is no reason we cannot continue to make progress well into our golden years. We just need to train smart to do so. I hope this article has equipped it’s readers to do so.